Women in Music

Suzanne Cusick, Susan McClary, and Lydia Goehr; to name only a few of my favorite feminist musicologists, theorists, and philosophers. Prior to the pandemic, I was thrilled when I’d suddenly find myself riding in an elevator with Cusick (though I was too shy to introduce myself); I was equally grateful to have given Goehr a ride back to her Columbia University apartment from my own institution; and, while I have not yet met McClary, I can likely quote from her brilliant book, Conventional Wisdom, as I’ve read and re-read it so many times. Needless to say when I saw the call for papers for the Feminist Theory and Music (FT&M) 2022 Conference, I was scared, excited, anxious, and filled with a “why not throw your hat in the ring” attitude. Because I’m not a trained musicologist, nor a theorist, I couldn’t have imagined they’d allow me to present. Long story short: They did!

According to the FT&M’s mission statement, “The study of music from the perspective of feminist theory raises significant questions that transcend the methodologies of any one subdiscipline of music. Feminist Theory and Music (FT&M) has met biennially since 1991 to provide an international, transdisciplinary forum for scholarly thought about music in relation to gender and sexuality, as well as for performances that present such thought in sound and embodied action.”

So, in addition to some amazing thinkers, movers, and shakers within music history, music theory, performance practice, gender studies, philosophy, jazz studies, and cultural anthropology, while at the 30th Anniversary of the Feminist Theory & Music Conference at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada), I met musicologist, pianist, and educator Anneli Loepp Thiessen. And I feel privileged to have heard her paper, “B is for Beyoncé: Picture Books as a Tool for Intersectional Music Education.”

As described via the conference website:

Feminist education invites students to investigate their own intersecting identities, and opens conversations around the systems of oppression that have led to women’s erasure from various spheres of society (Vickery and Rodriguez, 2021). For elementary music instructors, feminist education mandates a robust acknowledgement of the diverse contributions of women in music. In what Hess (2015) identifies as a “ground up” approach, this content should not be limited by era, genre, race, or ability and rather should encompass women’s contributions to many facets of music. Bound by male-dominated syllabi, an outdated classical/popular hierarchy, and colonial limitations of merit (Ewell, 2020), many instructors struggle to begin this crucial task.

This presentation demonstrates that picture books are a powerful tool for elementary music lessons by highlighting women’s diverse identities and musical experiences in an immersive way. Tough topics such as racism, homophobia, and sexism are made accessible through stories that invite readers to identify their own positionality and imagine a new future (Swartz, 2020). Visual and literary aids provide a resource that captures the nuances of women’s experiences, beyond what a traditional lesson can offer. Books on figures like Ella Fitzgerald (Kirkfield, 2020), Celia Cruz (Chambers, 2007), and Miriam Makeba (Erskine, 2017) compel students to consider the impacts of racial injustice, industry discrimination, and political turmoil on women’s experiences of music making. This presentation will outline how music picture books can be an effective tool for decolonizing education, promoting equality in music making, and illuminating the profound contributions of women in music.

Her children’s book, The ABCs of Women in Music—with gorgeous illustrations by Haeon Grace Kang—is a treasure trove of great female music makers/generators/thinkers. And each page is filled with endless possibilities for music educators to teach nearly each and every aspect of music. Especially ripe for elementary general music teachers—nay, any music educator—all one needs is a little imagination to help catapult a variety of classroom music lesson plans, classroom creativity, classroom publishing, and more.

As described:

Meet Clara the composer, Ella the jazz singer, Selena the pop star, and Xian the conductor!
Women in music are brilliant, creative, brave, and resilient. They are composers, conductors, singers, musicologists, electronic music producers, and so much more … [M]eet 26 remarkable women musicians who collectively span over 1,000 years of music history and represent a diversity of cultures, races, professions, and abilities. Their incredible stories and beautiful work are sure to inspire a new generation of musicians!


I cannot recommend this book enough.

Music and a Meal

I was asked by an undergraduate student yesterday, “Do you think it’s important to keep learning? And if so, what’s the best way?”

The first question yielded an immediate answer: YES!

The second question was not nearly as easy to answer, but I think I might know what is best for me to keep learning. For me, I learn best by asking lots of questions, and by listening – and listening a lot.

One of the very good things about social media is the ways it can immediately connect people to one another. So, when I ask a question on social media and send it out into the “interwebs,” I’m not sure if or who will respond. Still, it’s so exciting – for me – to get a response, to listen to that response, and to learn as much as I can about that response.

My most recent question may seem trite, but I asked it in earnest: If you could have a meal with any music maker, past or present, who would you choose and why?

Responses came from around the globe, from people of all ages, and taught me so many things about people, music, and the power of sharing. I’m still thinking about the answers people gave and the implications of them for music making, music teaching and learning, and the values people deem important.  And because I’m still learning by thinking-through all these variables, for now, please find just some of the music from the music makers chosen to share a meal. They are in alphabetical order.

Laurie Anderson

Jacob Bannon

Sara Bareilles

Ludwig von Beethoven

Elliott Carter

Diamanda Galás

Woody Guthrie

Jimi Hendrix

Elton John

Lyle Mays

Charlie Parker


Revolutionary Love

What does “revolutionary” love mean? For singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco:

…it means seeing no stranger. You know? It means, even with your opponents, to look into another’s face and say, you are part of me I will start from there. You’re a part of myself I do not know well enough … [it means] looking for the wound in your opponent. They might be doing all kinds of bad actions, you know? They might be doing negative things, but to search within that for the wound in them and to find the courage in yourself to tend the wound.

More perhaps: In order to find the wounds inside oneself, one must find and feel the wounds inside others.

Poet and activist Audre Lorde puts it this way:

There is a timbre of voice

that comes from not being heard

and knowing you’re not being

heard noticed only

by others not heard

for the same reason.

What does it mean to rectify this unseen-ness? Poets, writers, philosophers, and theorists of many kinds have written about the world’s much needed understanding and engagement in love-as-action. When we view love as action rather than privately held feelings, its potential to become more than ourselves is possible.

As bell hooks explains:

Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love. This is why it is useful to see love as a practice. When we act, we need not feel inadequate or powerless … but we must choose to take the first step.

Again, as Lorde so poignantly states in Sister Outsider:


your light shines very brightly

but I want you

to know

your darkness also


and beyond fear.

Sometimes, understanding our layers of self-hood come into clearer focus when we see ourselves—our frailty, humanity, imperfect beauty, the lightness and darkness—through seeing others. Our personal journeys are made possible because of our contact with and through others’ journeys.

Let us remember: revolutionary love is an act of rebellion. It includes, among other attributes, the ability to see others, to hear others, to feel others. Revolutionary love is, as activist Valerie Kaur maintains, “a radical and joyful practice to heal ourselves and transform the world around us.”

It is Kaur’s wisdom that fueled and inspired DiFranco’s newest album. As her lyrics cry out:

I will ask you questions
I will try to understand
And if you give me your story
I will hold it in my hands


Sharing Music

It’s important to broaden my musical horizons. And for me, the best way to do this is to ask for help. So, as I typically do once per year, I asked Facebook. This time around, I put it this way:

It’s that time again to expand my musical experiences. Care to note songs/pieces that have been helping you “come through”?

Responses landed from far and wide; from friends, students, and colleagues. Interestingly, some came from people I’ve never actually met. Yet, they felt compelled to share a part of themselves with me, a stranger. How amazing is that! That’s how important someone’s music can be; it’s so important that a person will share it with someone unknown.

Because of this, I share all the many songs/pieces shared with me. Have a listen. What a beautiful “map” of spirit and sound; the combination of all this music as expressed and shared by each one who takes the time to travel it.

Raul Midon “Pedal to the Metal”


Brass Against “Maggie’s Farm (Rage Against the Machine/Bob Dylan Cover) Ft. Amanda Brown”

Glen Phillips “Grief and Praise”


Alicia Keys “Good Job”

“We Are Here”

Snarky Puppy feat. Jacob Collier & Big Ed Lee “Don’t You Know” (Family Dinner Volume Two)

Phish “You Enjoy Myself”

Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No. 4

Sergei Prokofiev Symphony No. 4

Ludwig Van Beethoven Symphony No. 4

Robert Schumann Symphony No. 4

A FLG Maurepas upload – Carla Bley Bland with guests “Misterioso”

Duchess “Creole Love Call” 

The Royal Bopsters “Our Spring Song”

Pino Daniele “Bambina” (2017 Remaster)

Snarky Puppy “Lingus (We Like It Here)”

Green Day “American Idiot” 

Rage Against The Machine “Wake Up”

Mahalia “Sober” (Acoustic Version)

Natalia Lafourcade Albúm Musas

1. Soy lo Prohibido (feat. Los Macorinos) 0:00 2. Mexicana Hermosa (feat. Los Macorinos) 3:44 3. Soledad y el Mar (feat. Los Macorinos) 7:15 4. Tú Me Acostumbraste (feat. Omara Portuondo & Los Macorinos) 10:40 5. Mi Tierra Veracruzana (feat. Los Macorinos) 14:00 6. Son Amores (That’s Amore) (feat. Los Macorinos) 17:49 7. Vals Pórtico (Instrumental) (feat. Los Macorinos) 21:30 8. Tonada de Luna Llena (feat. Los Macorinos) 24:50

Rhiannon Giddens “Julie” 


John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain & Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia “Lotus Feet”

Noah Kahan, Choreography by Sean Lew“False Confidence”

John Coltrane “A Love Supreme, Pt. I – Acknowledgement”

Theo Katzman “Like a Woman Scorned”

MEUTE “Hey Hey” (Dennis Ferrer Rework)

“You & Me” (Flume Remix)

Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater “The Key Is” from Alice by Heart

Nancy LaMott “We Live On Borrowed Time”

Pat Metheny and Antonio Carlos Jobim “How Insensitive”

Rose Cousins “The Return (Love Comes Back)”

The Mavericks “La Sitiera”

India.Arie “Breathe”

Bande Originale De Film – M / Belleville Rendez-Vous

Dwayne Dopsie and The Zydeco Hellraisers “Get Up”


Larkin Poe “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues”


Just as there are hundreds upon hundreds of musics around the world, there are as many “whys” of musics. And because music education depends, partly, on the natures and values of musics, it stands to reason that there are hundreds upon hundreds of values of music education.

I will not pretend to know each and every value. Nor will I pretend to have experienced them all. Still, part of the joy of music education is experiencing known and unknown values.  Even better: to experience values never deemed possible.

Here are 3 values. They aren’t the best nor the most comprehensive. Still, they’re part of why I engage in music education.

1. Musical understanding. A key value of music education is musical understanding. What does this mean? Briefly, musical understanding is experiencing and expressing oneself through music. This depends upon many factors—too numerous to mention here. For now, when I experience and express myself through music—when I compose a pop song, perform in a large ensemble, or dance Gahu—I gain a sense of self-knowledge (and self-other knowledge), self-growth (and self-other growth), and self-esteem I couldn’t gain otherwise. Why? When musical challenges meet (or slightly enhance) my abilities, I experience flow (also known as optimal experience). “Flow” describes a kind of experience that’s so engaging that it’s worth doing for the doing itself. The arts and sports are typical sources of flow. What sets musics apart from all other sources of flow and self-other understandings is the unique materials and requirements of musics, namely sonic-musical events created and shared by and for others at specific times and places.

2. Community. Related to self-other understanding, a key value of music education is community. Music making connects me to those I engage with musically. There are a number of reasons for this. First, music making can be emotionally engaging/arousing. When I’m emotionally engaged, I’m likely to connect with those who are part of this emotional engagement. Also, I become in-sync with others. And being in-sync connects me to others I wouldn’t otherwise be connected with/to. Relationships form because of musical experiences, and a community is born. With that comes trust, care, commitment, fellowship, well-being, and so on. The value of community yields exponential dividends. However, this isn’t the only kind of community that music education yields. By engaging with musics written by and for others—for example, Mahler’s 1st Symphony, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Snow (Hey, Oh),” “Siyahamba,” or Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige—I can connect to people, places, and times far removed from my own here and now. That kind of time/space travel and communality is greatly rewarding.

3. Happiness. A key value of music education is happiness, or, stated differently, Aristotle’s notion of “human flourishing.” While some people may think that happiness is a “soft” value like “fun,” it’s not. Happiness is the pursuit of a life well lived. Living well isn’t simplistic or easily achieved. When engaged in the teaching-and-learning of music, I’m contributing to my life’s happiness. What more can be said about music education and happiness? Perhaps it’s something only to be felt and experienced. So, listen, make, and engage – with, in, and through music.


Music Making Hope

In our previous Music Matters blogs we’ve discussed and shown many ways that music is employed and deployed to express or mirror the problems and triumphs in our worlds, to question the status quo, and to bring people together in their hopes for change.

Today, in the midst of the horrible coronavirus pandemic, people everywhere have a crying need to feel united, to express their pain, to hope, and to fight for a better tomorrow.

Music is at the center of all these universal human needs. For example, the Academy of Country Music Awards was aired on a CBS special online, social-distance broadcast called Our Country. This live-streamed event not only showcased some of today’s great country music performers, it offered a chance for audiences to join in solidarity through song, and to thereby be comforted and uplifted.

In what ways are current artists singing about present circumstances? Consider some of the following online concerts, performances, and social media “thank yous” through music.

In another example, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free” – written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas – is a one of many songs that propelled the Civil Rights Movement. But how might it now embody the needs of the great cross-section of people in the grips of the current plague? Nina Simone most famously covered this track in the 1960s, and throughout her career as a jazz legend. Numerous artists past and present also performed this moving tribute to freedom. Consider the following versions of this song and the many different ways it “means” to/for people, right here and now.

And there are more examples of music making connections across quarantined spaces.

And these youngsters in Africa dance and showcase their courage and strength and hope. Let us keep hope alive through music.

Once More: Music Matters Because People Matter

We are living in trying times. Around the globe, people are isolated, panicked, quarantined, unwell, and uncertain about what tomorrow may or may not bring. Despite this, and regardless of social distancing, there are wonderful stories that showcase the unification of spirit and soul. And many such stories include music making and sharing from professionals and amateurs alike.

As experienced via Twitter, Yo Yo Ma stated and shared the following:

Similarly in Italy, and even though the country is on lock-down, people nationwide are coming to their windows to sing. Yes, sing! Singing for those who are at “ear’s length,” singing for themselves, and singing for all of us around the world to communicate that hope and joy are ever-present in the hearts and minds of those confined at home.


Also, like the above-mentioned model of Yo Yo Ma, and in order to provide comfort and solace in their community, two young Ohio cellists serenade on the front porch of a quarantined neighbor.

Speaking of confined at home, for public and private school students who are no longer be able to perform school concerts, performances, and musical theater productions, Broadway star Laura Benanti called such students to share their songs with her via social media.

We could provide dozens and dozens more examples where people are coming together via social media through music making and sharing. Let’s not forget music’s potential power to unite, communicate, and transform for good. Even when we are seemingly on our own, we are united and can be even closer. Indeed, while at home practicing social distancing, Pink treats us with her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” As she stated via Instagram: “Free concert slash piano lessons from my heart to yours … To make you feel my love 😍 rehearsals.”

Let’s remember we are responsible for one another, even at a distance…



Kodi Lee

It’s clear that we believe that music matters. And every day we’re reminded, again and again, how we’re not alone in this widely-held view.

And while we can argue about the merit – or not – of a show like “America’s Got Talent,” the following case about music’s significance in the lives of people was found there.

As reported on CNN, among other news channels and online media outlets, pianist and singer Kodi Lee shows how much music matters to him and to his mom through his rendition of “A Song For You.”

Rather than go into all the benefits and “goods” this mother and son experience from music making and listening and sharing, we’ll let this musicing speak for itself.